Worlds of Design: Are You Consistent?

Like sports fans, RPGers want consistency of GMs rulings. This is both in the “meta” mode, what characters do aside from adventures, and adventures mode.

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

Success isn't always about greatness. It's about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.”—Dwayne Johnson (“The Rock”)

Call It Consistently!​

Watching the NBA finals a few years ago, I often heard the plea of players and coaches—and spectators—that referees call the game consistently. Whether they call it tight or loose, call lots of fouls inside or outside, as long as the refs are consistent the players can adjust their play accordingly.

Thinking about some adventures I’ve experienced over the years, I realized that RPGers also want consistency of GMs rulings. This is both in the “meta” mode, what characters do aside from adventures, and the adventure mode.

Time​

One of inconsistency that bugs me is when a GM ordinarily gives players lots of time to consider what to do, but then at a stressful point goes into real-time and rushes everyone (introducing video-game-like time stress). To me this is a cheap GM trick; I figure I’m playing a game not really adventuring. (In real-world adventures, it is real-time.).

Believability vs. Boring​

Another consideration: the key to believability in games is consistency. In board games it's easier to maintain a baseline consistency on how the game world works, but RPGs take a lot more work. Some GMs care about believability, some don’t.

On the other hand, consistency in the kinds of things the players actually do, the kinds of challenges they meet (even storytelling is a challenge), is usually not desirable. No matter what it is, doing the same thing over and over and over can becomes tedious, whether it’s saving the world, or slaughtering orcs, or playing politics, etc.

Pacing Yourself​

Dramatic presentations of any kind require good pacing to stay “fresh.” A one-word description of good pacing might be “variability.” “Pacing” is an unfortunate choice of words, because it implies steady, measured endeavor (“walking with slow regular strides”), which is not desirable.

Good pacing is about more than three-act structure, though following a structure of that sort, or even the Hero’s Journey, necessarily varies the pacing of the event.

Consistent GM Styles​

Of the two extremes of GM style, “GM as arbiter” makes consistency easier, except that it subjects GMs to “rules lawyering." In other words, if the GM just interprets the rules (which must be quite detailed for this to work) and doesn’t make up new rules, then consistency is easier to achieve (assuming the game itself is consistent!). Detailed game rules actually help the GM be consistent, but they also require more GM time, attention, and sometimes more planning than if the game rules are less detailed.

“GM as god,” on the other hand, can easily lead to inconsistency. If the players are more invested in a storyline in which events happen to them (and they play along), they may find these inconsistencies less jarring as long as the end result is a good story.

RPGs Are Not Linear Entertainment​

When it comes to consistency, RPGs are more than simple entertainment, they're games too. Contrast the attitude with mass-market entertainment like television shows and movies. Consistency is often lacking in these mediums, in cartoons especially, and in TV writing in general. Writers think nothing of “cheating," of putting things into the program that couldn’t possibly be right in light of later “reveals." But most viewers don't care enough to hurt the show, if they notice at all. The same kind of thing happens in many genres of film, especially blockbuster adventures. Most of us end up spotting huge plot holes but agree to accept them and move on in order to enjoy the film.

Games are made of different stuff, and gamers expect consistency because they're not just passively watching, they're participating.

Your Turn: Is consistency an important part of your group’s play style?
 
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Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio

Yora

Legend
The whole point of RPGs is that players try to figure out what's going on and make plans what things they need to do to get a desired outcome. You can't have things work one way in one moment, and a different way in another moment. If the rules keep changing, the players have no real agency to do anything.
 

R_J_K75

Legend
I think consistency of applying and adjudicating rules as a DM in the general sense is important but doesn't need to be adhered to constantly. Running a city campaign, a dungeon delve, wilderness exploration or any other various type of adventure might require different rules or play styles be applied more consistently than others to make an adventure work. I think in those cases its more important to inform the players beforehand that adventure "x" over the next few sessions will concentrate on a certain theme and play style thus making consistency in the application of certain rules more necessary than others. This is a very crude example but say a DM is running an adventure of courtly intrigue at a noble gala and large dinner party, you wouldnt make players keep track of rations, but skill checks used when interacting with NPCs should be very consistent.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
It really depends on the style of game. I think games that try to have comprehensive rulesets that cover a myriad of situations and detailed tactical combat must have consistency to work as intended. In games that are more narrative driven, its less important because the fiction is contextual to the situation.
 


Celebrim

Legend
The whole point of RPGs is that players try to figure out what's going on and make plans what things they need to do to get a desired outcome. You can't have things work one way in one moment, and a different way in another moment. If the rules keep changing, the players have no real agency to do anything.

Rules not rulings.
 


Yora

Legend
It really depends on the style of game. I think games that try to have comprehensive rulesets that cover a myriad of situations and detailed tactical combat must have consistency to work as intended. In games that are more narrative driven, its less important because the fiction is contextual to the situation.
But the fiction has to remain consistent as well. NPCs can't change their motivations and goals without a reason in the fiction. The layout of locations has to remain the same unless something changed it in the fiction.
Deliberate inconsistencies in NPC behavior and environments still need a consistent reason. Player need to be able to notice and understand that something strange is going on that they can investigate, and that it's not the GM changing his mind all the time.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
But the fiction has to remain consistent as well. NPCs can't change their motivations and goals without a reason in the fiction. The layout of locations has to remain the same unless something changed it in the fiction.
Deliberate inconsistencies in NPC behavior and environments still need a consistent reason. Player need to be able to notice and understand that something strange is going on that they can investigate, and that it's not the GM changing his mind all the time.
Not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about PCs having playbooks and meta-currencies to take agency control. For example, a player might have a sharp/trick shooter mechanic that allows them to do something unusual with firearms. There is a reason why that character can do things that nobody else can. Things triggered by character mechanics and/or situational context. Things that, perhaps, not event he character with said mechanic can always rely on.
 

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